Shovelling . . . It

As a writer and editor, I have to acknowledge a reality about the publishing world: There are a lot of crappy books that people buy. I’m talking to you:

Twilightbook

This raises the question of why an author would bother with trying to write a good book. What’s the point? You don’t have to get a publisher to release your work these days, and some well-known authors got their start through non-traditional means. I’m talking to you:

50ShadesofGreyCoverArt

But is the answer that marketing matters and quality doesn’t?

Well, marketing is certainly important. We know about this guy

468px-Shakespeare

because his work was produced in the licensed theaters of his day. He got a following by becoming known in the approved channels. Now, though, there are hundred of thousands of books published every year, so the ones that get put in front of the most potential readers are the ones more likely to sell. The problem is finding ways to get your book distinguished from the herd.

Of course, a lot of readers don’t care about good writing. Thus the sales of the books pictured above. Instead, they want a racy story with lots of plot. But if you set out to write a book that will appeal to the masses, what you’re doing is no better than playing the lottery. The masses, being fickle, are likely to love what you’re writing only when someone else writes it. One year it’s vampires that everyone wants, while the next it’s teenagers with swords, but who knew before the fact that it wasn’t going to be talking cats or rock drummers who solve crimes when they’re not bursting eardrums?

That_Darn_Cat_-_1965_Poster

Besides, it’s not the poor quality of the writing that makes a book sell. Yes, writing at a sixth grade reading level may help, but clunky dialogue and flat characters aren’t a guarantee for success. Look at it this way: The people who read only for the wild plot aren’t going to reject your book if you also write well, but good readers will appreciate your efforts.

There is more to this. I would like to be remembered as having written something worth reading. In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle quotes a saying from the Greek lawmaker Solon to the effect that we should count no one as happy until after the person has died. The meaning of that was that we can’t judge the totality of a life before it’s finished. I’d like people to read what I’ve written long after I’m gone and to regard it as good. Yes, I’d also like to make a lot of money by writing, but as I said, that’s a wish, not a goal. We cannot plan to write a bestseller.

And that’s why it’s good to write the best work you can. Then you may need an editor and a promoter to polish and sell your book. As always, keep reading, keep writing, and keep submitting.

Or you can just be happy that your mother likes what you write.

Crossposted at English 301: Reading and Writing.

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